Being the First: Stigmas and Supports for First-Generation Students

The future can be daunting. After graduating high school, your family starts placing pressure on you to start going to post-secondary. But, that’s not all you have to consider when you have to think about money, where to go and what to study. Feeling like you are the only one that doesn’t have all the answers in a sea of other people who do is intimidating. This is exactly what it feels like to be a first-generation post-secondary student.

Todd Hibbs, a wrestling coach and first-generation himself at Alma College in Michigan, United States, speaks on the notion of first-generation students coming into college with no guidance. During a TedTalk, he mentions how he defines this generation and ways to support them as they transition to post-secondary. Hibbs coined term for them as “Firgens”, which describes post-secondary students whose parents have not attended, completed or do not have a post-secondary education equivalent to that of their residential country.

Here are the top three stigmas and issues that first-generation students, or, Firgens, face:

  1. 1. "Firgens just complain"

    There is an assumption that Firgens are just whiny babies that like to cry about not knowing anything about post-secondary. But in reality, they might not feel open to talking about their struggles for fear of sounding as if they are complaining. Realizing what “first-generation” means is to see the differences in class, family upbringing and cultures that we have no control over when we are born. So, this makes it hard to ask for help when people around us assume that Firgens simply complain about their adversities.

  2. 2. Difficulty asking for help

    Firgens may feel too afraid to ask questions for fear of seeming incompetent for not already knowing what they need. This makes them afraid to approach professors, academic advisors, administrators or other student service workers. Firgens are then left feeling lost, confused, anxious or stressed if they do not get the support they need from resources to navigate their way through post-secondary.

  3. 3. "There is no support"

    The most common stigma is that Firgens are helpless with no one to help them. It can be difficult just knowing exactly who to go to in your situation. But, that is why there are many blogs, support groups and programs available for people to find the help and advice they need from people who also identify as first-generation. Blogs such as imfirst.org/ and an open-member Facebook group, “Empowering First-Generation College Students”, are a few places online that I have found helpful in connecting with other students that share these same experiences with ways to find resources that have helped them in their journey at post-secondary.

There are some opportunities for Firgens to receive help throughout their studies. Wilfrid Laurier University, for example, runs a bursary program for those that identify as first-generation students where they can apply each school year. For more information to read if you are eligible and when to apply, go to their website.

Being the first doesn’t have to be scary. Being a Firgen is something to be proud of.